Saturday, February 28, 2009

Anarchism and Radical Governments

Anarchism is more influential and wide-spread than at any time in the last 70 years. And the movement continues to grow and develop. This does not necessarily mean that we will become the predominate tendency. Even during anarchism's previous zenith – the years immediately after World War One – we had to share the stage with other socialist currents. The most important and far-reaching anarchist movement – that of Spain in 1936 – saw the formation of a united front involving the CNT-FAI, the left-communist POUM and rank and file militants of the Socialist trade unions.

It is safe to claim that social change – let alone social revolution – will involve a number of different tendencies, of which anarchism will be one, and not always the predominant one. Anarchists will work together with the other tendencies which promote self-government and self-management, in essence, all tendencies that in some manner or other support the popular struggle. This notion is not a controversial issue among us. We are already working along side other tendencies in the environmental, peace, anti-fascist and anti-capitalist movements.

The problem comes for anarchists when the pressure of social movements gives rise to populist, democratic socialist or “revolutionary” governments. Examples of these are to found in Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador. How do we , as resolute anti-statists, relate to governments, which in some manner, reflect and act according to the needs and desires of the social movements and the working population? How we react to these situations can be fraught with danger to our movement.

In the past, anarchists have reacted in two opposing and erroneous ways. One might be called “liquidationalism”. Here anarchists give up their distinct program and dissolve themselves into the governing “revolutionary” tendency. During the Russian Revolution, thousands of anarchists joined the Bolsheviks or formed-Bolshevik inspired organizations in their respective nations. Needless to say, the Bolsheviks did not enact our program! After The 26 July Movement made its turn toward the Communist Party, and Cuban anarchists were suppressed, many anarchists outside Cuba tended to ignore the plight of their comrades out of solidarity with the Cuban Revolution. Liquidationalism means giving up on anarchism entirely, in exchange for a bit of social progress, and sometimes not even that.

I think that liquidationalism comes about through anarchist weakness. There had been few attempts at anarchist revolution prior to 1917, and anarchism had “growing pains.” Bolshevism seemed to show the way. The early 1960's were the nadir of the anarchist movement and a lot of anarchists looked for anything to be optimistic about, and Cuba seemed to fit the bill. Since anarchism today is a growing force, I do not see liquidationalism as a major problem, though, of course, one never knows for sure.

Sectarianism is the other error. Surprise, surprise, democratic socialists and populists are not anarchists! We cannot expect them to carry out our program, but we can expect them to carry out the aspects of their own program that help the populace. If they do this, should they be condemned as enemies as evil as the corporatists and oligarchs? What do the people think when anarchists damn these reformers ? Sectarianism separates anarchists from the mass of the populace, who cannot understand why erstwhile revolutionaries are condemning the very actions which are improving their lives. What is even worse, is when sectarianism leads to propaganda imitating the reactionaries. According to the sectarian, the glass is never half-full, it is always empty. Should reaction triumph, the sectarians will be tortured and killed along with the other tendencies, and their sectarianism will remain as a bitter taste in the mouths of a defeated people. (1)

This is most particularly the case in Latin America where the mobilization of the populace immediately leads to polarization between the masses and the oligarchy and its supporters. If the oligarchy gains the upper hand in this struggle the result is the suppression of popular movements, torture and massacre. To think that one can stand aside during this polarization, or that it is "only a struggle between bourgeois factions and doesn't concern us" is to live in a dream world.

One cause of sectarianism is fetishizing the alleged or actual lessons of the past. The Bolsheviks turned on their anarchist allies, so too, Fidel Castro. Wherever Stalinism took over, anarchists and other radical tendencies were eliminated. From this tragic history comes an unspoken view that any revolution or government led by Marxists, real or alleged, will end up following this pattern. But history does change not merely repeating itself like a rubber stamp. Stalinism is not some Platonic Form, hovering in the cosmos, just waiting to manifest at the first outbreak of revolutionary change.

The alternatives to Stalinism – Trotskyism, democratic socialism and anarchism – were too weak in the 1940's and 50's. Stalinism was hegemonic at this time. But
people learn what works and what doesn't. What was once seen as a viable model for revolutionary change – the one party state plus nationalization of productive wealth – is no longer seen as an answer. It does not create the sort of society that anyone wants.

The movement away from the hegemony of the Stalinist model began in the late 1960's. The Unidad Popular government of Chile attempted to create socialism, through a democratic process. The Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua did not go in a Stalinist direction. Rather than suppressing all tendencies but their own, they favored a multi-tendency democracy – even for the right-wing, a kindness that was not acknowledged.

What then should anarchists do in the face of new revolutionary or progressive regimes that work to some measure in the interest of the population? First off; Our loyalty is to the people, not the government – or any government. If the people support a progressive government it is because that government is responding to their wishes. A direct frontal attack on such a government – until it truly begins to work against its supporters – is futile and creates a wedge between us and the people.

We should remain non-committal, as long as the government somehow acts in the popular interest. When it deviates from that path, we criticize. But there is also a way of criticizing that is not off-putting to the people. That method is one of positive re-enforcement. To never cease bringing up the need for direct democracy and self-management. If the progressive government is reticent to go beyond words, our unending needling on these points will be a powerful criticism, yet will not be seen as a negative attack. Our goal should be to push the progressive government, from below, to either the breaking point where it exposes its reactionary other face, or to where it begins to dissolve itself into popular power. And if this process cannot be pushed to its libertarian fulfillment, we must win a strong base among the people, in the unions, neighborhoods and social organizations, to defend our gains and build a base for the next step in the struggle.

We must involve ourselves with the populace, if the people win some measure of self-government and decentralization, we should be there, pushing these measures to the full. If the revolutionary government encourages coops, we should form them or join them, making sure they are autonomous and democratic. Should reactionaries attempt to re-establish their rule through a coup, electoral fraud or invasion, we must be at the forefront of the resistance, not as government lackeys, but as supporters of the popular movements the reactionaries will destroy if they regain power. Our slogan should not be “Defend our Government”, but “Defend the People ... our Neighborhoods, Trade Unions, Cooperatives etc.” At no time must we ally with reaction, even verbally, no matter what our differences with the progressive government.

This article also appears in Anarkismo See

1. During the campaign to overthrow Allende, the CIA funded a strike of truck drivers. The sectarians of the day crowed about the strike as an example of "class struggle" against the wicked Allende reformists.



Blogger mollymew said...

Hi larry,
Do you mind if I reproduce this article over at Molly's Blog ? With the provisio, of course, that I disagree with you about Venezuela. I have already commented over at the Anarkismo site, and you might want to read that to get the general drift.
By the way, you may already be aware of it, but in case you are not the Aftaka site has reprinted both my comments on teh situation in Iceland and your comment.

2:15 PM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

Go ahead, the more the merrier!

3:49 PM  
Blogger mollymew said...

I think you should cross post this to the Anarchist Black Cat discussion board considering the response it is getting at Anarkismo

5:50 PM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

Thanks Molly! If I were to do that I would like to re-write it in reference to the comments I have been getting. I am also hoping that someone in the Anarkismo thread will take me up on the offer of coming up with an alternative proposal. What I am hoping is a kind of collective effort emerging, which in a way is what is happening. I would also like to avoid in future getting bogged down in discussions about Venezuela and concentrating on the issue of how to avoid the twin errors of liquidationalism and sectarianism.

6:54 PM  
Blogger Frank Partisan said...

I agree with the post, to the extent I can, not being an anarchist.

I was going to write you about a disturbing trend in anarchism in the US. There is a conscious effort by Maoists (FRSO for sure), to court anarchists, for militant demonstrations. The most arrests, and the most serious charges are given to the anarchists.

I get angry at the some of the anarchists here, who are agreeable to positions as "support any and all Palestinian resistance," which is code for Hamas support, and are also friendly towards Maoists, but feel threatened by Trotskyists.

If you are a worker in Israel, chances are you belong to a Zionist union, or belong to some other Zionist institution. If you are outside of organizations, that workers belong to, you are nowhere. That is what is a sect, in this day and age.

OT: I've recently been studying about the Militant Tendency. That was what the IMT was called in the UK. Ted Grant had been in the Labor Party for decades, and his work beared results in the late 80s. At one time we had 50 MPs, one person in the House of Commons, 200 full time organizers, and 8,000 members and sympathizers. We were open socialists. It was responsible for bringing down Thatcher.

We controlled the city government in Liverpool. The MPs put Hugo Chavez to shame. The city government organized demos of 20,000 people.

BBC was producing dramas, about reds taking over the UK through elections.

Later we were expelled by a coalition of Labor hacks and the Thatcherite courts. In addition there were internal problems.

Eventually a faction was formed, that said we don't need the Labor Party.

The whole thing is a book length story.

See this. That made us the largest Trotskyist group in history.

8:36 PM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

I think you Trotskyists are better equipped theoretically to deal with these sort of mass-based populist govts. than we anarchists are. (But I am trying!) Mind you, in practice, I seem to remember Trotskyist parties getting swallowed up by reformist parties in places like Sri Lanka, and of course, groups like the Sparts are infamous for their sectarianism.

Immature anarchists I suppose, are attracted to Maoists since they equate being revolutionary with noise, rock throwing and sloganeering. Mature anarchists on the other hand, prefer people you can have an intelligent exchange of ideas with, people who actually read books and can construct an intelligible sentence in a recognizable language, so we are not put off by Trotskyists. (unless of the crazy kind, as above.) Also isn't it odd these anarchists would cozy up to a group that would establish a totalitarian dictatorship, when you guys want workers councils same as we do?

Hamas support is just plain stupid as well as playing into the hands of the reactionaries who can then claim the anti-war movement is both anti-Semitic and supports terrorists.

Thanks for the info on Militant. I never knew its support was that extensive.

3:09 PM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

One thing Ren, that must have been one person in the House of Lords. MP's are seated in the House of Commons and the MT had 50 of those.

3:12 PM  
Blogger Frank Partisan said...

The bourgoise histories, say the Militant Tendency dissolved, because of the witchunt.

Within was a group, who went wild with their success, and believed it was time to start a new party. They became a majority, and expelled Ted Grant, Alan Woods and Rob Sewell.

This group formed the Scottish Socialist Party, with Tommy Sheridan etc.

The faction that expelled Grant, is now called the Committee for a Workers Int'l (CWI).

8:00 PM  
Blogger Graeme said...

Although I don't think my politics have changed too much, I've made the switch from calling myself an anarchist to a Trotskyist. I was a very discouraged by the IWW's Industrial Worker basically coming out in favor of the bosses oil strike in Venezuela, and the what I see as a general lack of support of any of the progressive movement in Latin America.

I completely agree with your criticism of sectarianism. Unfortunately the history of Trotskyism is also ripe with examples of it.

3:35 PM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

To be fair, Graeme, the IW published only one article like this, one person's opinion. It was also challenged by other members. Remember that the IWW is a broad group of socialists, anarchists and independent radicals whose common ground is spreading the idea of revolutionary unionism and so will differ on some other issues. And the Intl Solidarity committee of the IWW has been to Haiti, Mexico, Bolivia and Chile, meeting with workers and social groups. The IWW does see building international relations with other unions and social groups a priority.

5:11 PM  
Blogger Graeme said...

Yes, I remember reading about the Haiti trip. Regarding the piece about Venezuela: I remember it being unsigned and I took that as to mean it being the opinion of the IW. I understand that many member, including myself at the time, disagreed with it. It was just so bizarre it stuck with me.

8:55 PM  

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